FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — NASCAR is finally about to lose its wings.
“We’re hoping within the next two of three races that we’ll be able to be at a point where we say it’s time to take the wings off and put the spoiler on,” NASCAR president Mike Helton said Monday.
While Helton didn’t provide a specific date for the expected removal of the wings from the cars, that timeline coincides with the March 28 race at Martinsville that most teams have expected to be the first with the more traditional-looking rear spoilers.
Speaking at Texas Motor Speedway’s media day, Helton said there was a “pretty doggone good chance” that the spoilers would be on the car when the series races at the 1½-mile, high-banked track April 18. The first on-track testing of the new spoiler package was done during a tire test at Texas in January.
“I think by the time we come here in April, we can have a race or two under our belt with the spoiler,” Helton said.
There are two more Sprint Cup races before the series goes to the half-mile Martinsville, which will come only days after NASCAR’s planned open test at Charlotte. Texas is the second race after that.
Spoilers were replaced with a wing on the new car model phased in three years ago. That model has been used full-time since 2008, and fans have complained it has made races boring. NASCAR last May began a series of town hall and individual meetings with teams, and one of the constant cries from participants was a need to alter the car design.
“If the industry benefits from the fans seeing a more traditional piece and that works for us, can we mechanically do the things that the wing presents as an advantage with a spoiler?” Helton said. “During the course of research, we figured out how to do that.”
Already, NASCAR is encouraging drivers this season to be more aggressive, in large part to answer a growing fan sentiment that the sport had gone stale.
Helton knows the message is viewed partly as “NASCAR is saying that they don’t need to be such a heavy hand, they don’t need to be so regulatory.” He said drivers were told about the expected change more than a year ago and are gaining more of an understanding of the new freedom “as each little occurrence happens” and they see how the series reacts — or doesn’t react.
Three races into the Sprint Cup season, there have already been sagging television ratings, the pothole problem at Daytona, caution lights coming on twice for no reason at Las Vegas and lower attendance at California.
Helton called the pothole at Daytona “unique” and unfortunate, something that surely affected television viewers who had the choice of flipping over to the first weekend of the Olympics during two hours of race delays.
“At the end of the day completing all 500 miles, the action in those 500 miles was indicative of what people’s expectations of the Daytona 500 were,” Helton said. “But with the Olympics as an alternative, the TV audience had a very specific direction that they could go. The longer we were down, the more difficult.”
As for the unexpected caution lights at Las Vegas, Helton said it was an electronic problem but wasn’t sure if it was caused by NASCAR or the track. Officials thought it was a fluke when it happened the first time, but turned off the electronic system after it happened the second time.
NASCAR is also apparently paying more attention to teams who enter races with no intention of trying to finish the events, the so-called “start-and-park” cars.
At Las Vegas, series spokesman Ramsey Poston said the sanctioning body will now inspect the first car that drops out of a race and wasn’t involved in an accident. It should force teams to attempt to run as many laps as possible to avoid NASCAR inspecting its motor to ensure everything is legal.
Helton emphasized Monday that NASCAR races are open to any team that follows the rules, qualifies and passes all inspections.
“We have shown we’ll be reactive or adaptive with our rules and regulations to fix something that we don’t particularly agree with,” Helton said. “But right now it’s more about NASCAR being a free enterprise system … where the system stays balanced by allowing it to take its own course.”